Three Niner Tango: Flying for Conservation

Sawyer and Charlie in front of the plane

Monday, April 9th dawned as one of the first sunny and spring-like mornings of 2018. By 10 AM, MHLC’s Stewardship and Volunteer Coordinator, Sawyer Cresap, was flying 1,000 feet over the Capital Region in a four-seater Cessna Skylane plane, enjoying the sun and a new view of our protected lands with Charlie Burgess, Stewardship Manager for the Open Space Institute (OSI).

With the help of Lighthawk, an organization which donates flights for conservation professionals, and volunteer pilot Bob Keller, Sawyer and Charlie were able to observe MHLC- and OSI-protected lands in real time and in context with the larger landscape of eastern New York.

“With the Catskill Mountains as a backdrop, we flew along the Helderberg Escarpment, through Coeymans, Rennselaerville, and up the Bozen Kill ravine capturing the hills and valleys of protected landscapes and seeing our conservation priorities areas from a new vantage point,” Sawyer said of her the trip, which was her first time flying in a four-seater plane.

By taking photos from the sky with a high-resolution DSLR camera, Sawyer was able to capture visual documentation of tens of thousands of acres of land and water in just under two hours. This is a tremendous tool for MHLC in our work surveying protected lands. Not only does the aerial survey save valuable time in the field during the limited monitoring season, making our monitoring and documentation work more efficient, but the photos also provide u  s with a more comprehensive view of terrain that would be otherwise inaccessible on foot or by vehicle. By flying with Lighthawk, we can capture a more detailed snapshot of intricate water bodies, forest stock, mowed fields, ancient stonewall property lines, winding backcountry roads, and other unique features hidden within the landscape. This imagery helps us build stronger defense against encroachment, development, and other unwanted activities on conservation land. It will also play a large role in helping document properties for existing and future projects so that we can save more of the land that matters most.

In a changing climate, aerial monitoring also helps paint a picture of current water levels and forest composition to serve as a baseline for comparisons over time. As ecological features shift, baseline data such as these photos will facilitate better land management decisions in the future.

With much of the snow already melted and leaves not yet on the trees, early spring is the perfect time for aerial monitoring. Through the rest of 2018 and beyond, MHLC will be sharing the impacts of this data with announcements of new lands we are working to protect. Thank you to Lighthawk for making this mission possible, and to volunteer pilot Bob Keller! 

Aerial support provided by LightHawk. Thank you, LightHawk!

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC) and the Open Space Institute (OSI) often partner on conservation projects: click here to read about our recent partnership in Rensselaerville. This flight allowed each of our organizations to survey important properties, including those on which we partner. 

To learn more about LightHawk, an incredible conservation organization which works with over 200 volunteer pilots who fly to protect land, water and wildlife across America, visit their website:

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